College Advisors: Building An Intentional Relationship

College students are legal adults. Whether they are 18 or 45, an advisor can’t phone home every time their student has an issue in their lives during their pursuit of a college degree. Imagine the difference between Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Good Will Hunting. For the student who is living away from home, trying to live an autonomous life, the support they could need from an advisor is so expansive and elusive.

While doing field research with local organizations and partners we are noticing that the more bandwidth and freedom an advisor has—to be daring and intrusive with their students—the greater the chance is that they are discovering their real latent needs. The basic systemic needs slide towards a much more robust personal need for support when a student begins to struggle, especially in the case of non-traditional students.

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It’s hard to get a student to ask for help in the first place. These are new life struggles to them and, most likely, first-generation college students don’t have anyone in their families to turn towards for support. The advisor has the opportunity to fill that void and its unique shape, size, profundity, and obscurity.

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Moving forward we are going to be focusing on how advisors can build intentional relationships with their students. How can this bond accommodate positive and productive faith and reason in persistence and college graduation?

 

 

Lateral Thinking In The Past: Final Theory Assignment Q1

Every time we delve into a new focus subject of design theory we are building a bank of literacy and thoughts for ourselves. We move forward with a longterm memory of the concepts and ideas that the authors present, and we can cognitively input the knowledge into the work we do now and in the future.

However, some of these more complex ideas are quite hard to grasp and I’ve found that it is harder to fit the confusing ideas into a mental toolbox to access later. In response I have found it to be a good challenge to dig into my personal memories and identify wicked problems that existed around me far before I knew about ill-structured problems were.

When I was in K-12 I went to inner-city Minneapolis public schools. The schools that were situated in more privileged neighborhoods had far better reputations and performance than the schools in tougher neighborhoods. The standardized education system simply was not built to accommodate a diverse society and the social landscapes that it lives in.

The Minneapolis district was bussing a limited number of kids from the low-income neighborhoods to the better schools. The district was trying to tame—create a well-structured problem—out of an irreducible ill-structured problem. They could even sell it as “diversifying the classroom,” and this would benefit the locals from the neighborhood and the students getting bussed in—full disclosure, the kids who were local to the high performing high schools were primarily caucasian and the kids being bussed from other areas were primarily African American and latino.

In retrospect the whole thing sits uneasy with me. And I decided to examine it through the lens of the authors we’ve read these last two weeks.

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I aim to talk about the touch points of redefining the problem I was witnessing as a student, examining where the faults are, and asking why the education system is ill-equipped to handle transformation.

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I have organized a sequence of how to examine the problem based on the authors we’ve read and the insights I’ve pulled from them (ISP stands for ill-structured problem).

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Herb Simon is the author that speaks most directly about ISPs.

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By looking at Simon’s identifications of an ill-structured problem we are able to clarify that fair access to quality education is most definitely an ISP.

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Simon defines that there are two types of problem solvers and one of them solves things that are already real, and the other solves for ideals. Pacione hones in on defining who these people are and clarifies why designers are good candidates for complex dilemmas.

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Pacione compares masters—a subject expert trained to solve well-structured problems—with virtuosos—those that can drop in to problems and work around their ambiguity.

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The next three authors draw us a picture of what techniques designers use in complex projects.

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In a nutshell, designers enter a problem space/opportunity spaces and use abductive reasoning and lateral thinking to explore all hypotheses and prototype different solutions. Wyatt most clearly lays out the design thinking cycle of inspiration, ideation, and iteration.

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Redefining the problem is a technique, but in the case of public education and most ISPs it is also a huge obstacle.

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In redefining the problem statement you have to ask deeper questions about the context of the current state problem. Can you get to a positive end goal by solving the problem as stated? This can spiral upwards and outwards as you start to see symptoms of other problems. How does a designer iterate when the consequences of a failed project can have lasting negative effects?Final_Presentation_Blog.012

Finally, ideas from all of the authors would support the introducing some capacity of design education in school.

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Each has their own specification of what is most important about design education.

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I really appreciate this quote as it demonstrates that it is the designer’s responsibility to initiate something that is sustainable and lasting. Teach the people to fish instead of fishing for them.

We Are Blood Theme Development

At the end of design research, our project team — Catherine, Kim, and Zev — had accumulated hundreds of independent utterances from participants we spoke with at mobile blood drives conducted by our clients, We Are Blood. In developing themes, we have unpacked the meaning in each of the ideas presented in the participant’s own words, and grouped them together based on the inferences we have pulled out of each quote.

When we began this stage of the design process, we saw a daunting wall of redundant statements and trivial quotes. But as we shuffled them around, some bland quotes unexpectedly became very central to the themes we were creating.

For example:

“We make sure [mats] are close to the floor, if they start to get light headed or anything, it’s very easy for us to lay them down. The beds are set up so we can accommodate more kids…so I can be over here with a donor and still be watching another donor closely.”— Keralyn, line 5,10

By digging into the psychology of being a mobile blood donation phlebotomist, we learned that language around their jobs, like this example, can be very technical and dry. That’s because there are many standards and etiquettes around FDA policies, and the training of a phlebotomist is very medical and procedural.

But another, deeper real job of a phlebotomist is to improvise as customer service representatives of their company and transform their position into that of an entertainer who performs a good blood donation, one that will convince a new donor to repeat. Keralyn’s quote, above, also tells us just how thoughtfully she and others take the donor’s experience into consideration as they set up a blood drive.

By developing and presenting our themes, we learned about how the phlebotomists are the heartbeat of We Are Blood’s organization.

It’s important to note that our results were greatly impacted by an event that happened a week ago today. Every group of the six student projects that are happening simultaneously got called into a chat with instructors Jon and Matt. We were told that we would not be presenting on Wednesday like we were supposed to, but we would get an extension to the following Monday (today). On average each team had themed about 15 percent of their data. We had all gone in and chosen our favorite utterances that seemed the most interesting to us, and developed a couple of thematic buckets and several distinct themes. Jon and Matt requested that we theme all of our data, not just our favorites.

As a result, we went back to the board. Hours later, we’d gone from having several themes to having 50+.

When we started to draw connections between our themes we discovered clusters of themes that made sense together. So we began sifting through and found three groups of themes that we called motifs.

Motif 1: More than anything else, people are motivated to give in ways that feel unique and easy.

Motif 2: Phlebotomists are the central heartbeat of We Are Blood. Their work is the human-centered staging that makes the entire experience.

Motif 3: Phlebotomists are stretched thin and are isolated in their work, and their key insights may not be being heard.

Elaborating on the first motif we heard donors talking about how they donate to make themselves feel good.

“It’s a good thing to be able to give my blood for somebody else. Because if I ever need it, I would hope that other people would do the same.” — Hannah, line 11

We also recognized that people felt unique donating something that was more personal than a monetary contribution and that made them feel special. If a corporate employee has the option between clicking a button on their computer to donate to a cause during their lunch break, or to go to the mobile blood vehicle in the parking lot, that employee would feel much more elevated by donating blood.

“It’s a good thing to do and it doesn’t cost you anything. People need it, and hopefully, you’ll help them. It’s just so easy.” — Greta, line 8

Hitting on the second motif—phlebotomists are the heartbeat of the organization—we heard mobile staff saying things that made them sound like improv performers or actors. Their job was to distract the donor from the medical procedure happening in front of their eyes and put them in a mind space where they wouldn’t have a physiological reaction to their fear or excitement of needles and blood. Phlebotomists are able to think laterally and mask the medical coldness of blood donation and replace it with a community service sense of togetherness.

“We’re trying to keep their mind off of it, so it’s a lot of personal things. ‘What did you do this summer?’ … We try to make them laugh, try to make them happy. The more they can talk, the more we can assess if they are doing well, or starting to fade a little bit.” — Keralyn, 25

Finally, in our third motif we explored the tension area internally in the company. We noticed that there wasn’t a consistent platform for phlebotomists to be thinking about or sharing their insights from the field, and that the management didn’t have a consistent way of asking for that feedback. There is a ceiling over the phlebotomists and as a result no one is benefiting from the critical thinking and lateral thinking that phlebotomists demonstrate everyday on the job.

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“We have a state of the center meeting. Every quarter, I believe. If time allows it for us to attend we most definitely will. If not, then we’ll get some information from our managers.” — Katie, 39

From here, we will be working with these themes to map service slices and develop greater insights into the donor experience at We Are Blood.

Go Sit In The Corner And Think About What You Said

I came in to our design theory section on designing for poverty with healthy skepticism. Throughout a year of Americorps service in rural Alabama several years ago I witnessed every way in which social entrepreneurship and non-profit aid shouldn’t be done. That’s not to say none of the organizations I interacted with didn’t have their merits. But the fact that Hale County, Alabama still struggled so deeply with unemployment, lack of financial aid, and horrible education meant to me that these non-profits and enterprises with their own individual agendas hadn’t really considered what was good for the community. I have taken the philosophies of the authors we’ve studied over the last two weeks and dropped them into an ironic and fictional experiment. I focus on the shortcomings of their perspectives on design for the wicked poverty problem.

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Jocelyn Wyatt, CEO of IDEO.ORG (not an author from this section, but definitely a player in the social entrepreneurial canon of thought) has kidnapped our thought leaders and brought them to a holding penitentiary outside of her studio in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Over the pandemonium and protest of the authors Jocelyn clarifies that no crime has been committed, but she is here to test everyone’s theories in a live project. They are assigned to come up with a plan of action for the fictional town of Podunk, Louisiana. Until then, they are stuck here.

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Dean Spears jumps into action right away. He frantically puts together the most objective scientific experiment he can muster, “Let me help us show that these poor people need us to guide them by the hand. They are exhausted and their cognitive energy is scarce.”

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By the way, part of this experiment is a series of one-on-one therapy chats with Jocelyn Wyatt. She wants to dig deeper into the psyche of the wicked problems of designing for poverty. Above are her notes from her session with Spears.

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Emily Pilloton, made notorious through her successes with Project H in small town North Carolina stops Spears in the middle of his isolated ruminating. “Dean, don’t you think we ought to get to know the people of Podunk a little bit more? How can we really be designing with if we are treating them as subjects of an experiment? I know Jocelyn has brought us to Nairobi, but maybe she will let us do three whole years of site work in Podunk. Like house arrest, let’s call it “community arrest.” Spears heard her words, but his mind was listening to his thoughts that he wanted to get out of prison and back to the city he came from.

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Jocelyn had a good chat with Emily and had a lot of appreciation for her enthusiasm and insight. But she’s not sure how Emily’s experience can be universalized in general social entrepreneurship and the design field. She found herself in a very good position to leverage the community and her own resources to make something happen in an isolated town. But not everyone can just flock to these floundering places and become their savior. What if they don’t want your help after all?

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Muhammad Yunus comes from a financial background and he sees community wealth as the way forward. He points out that there still exists the frameworks of an old catfish farming economy in this broken town. These poor people haven’t even considered loans a possibility, what kind of bank would give them a loan? Yunus thinks he can get the fish and dollars swimming again with a little bit of supervision.

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Jocelyn questions him on the complexity of pumping monetary wealth into a community that has never experienced luxury. Is that sustainable, and would there be consequences down the road?

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C.K. Parahalad wants to treat poor people just the same as any other market. “Let’s create some good products for these fish farmers. Let’s get them better trawling nets. Let’s get them trading these fish internationally. I can ensure that catfish is the next big staple everywhere from Beijing to New York City.”

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If you plan on having B-Corps drop into this scenario, who is regulating the ethics at all steps of this healing process? If I come to Podunk in 10 years, will I see an exploited local economy?

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Roger Martin fancies himself as an authority in pointing out good social entrepreneurship. He puts Yunus and Prahalad on a pedestal. “These guys have done amazing things in their communities! They are revolutionaries! If you don’t make such a big paradigm shift as these two, then you haven’t done enough.”

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Jocelyn: Wait, so are you suggesting that Emily Pilloton is not a social entrepreneur? Is the small town in North Carolina that she lifted up not enough to title her an entrepreneur? Has she not challenged conventional wisdom about what a designer can accomplish with the collaboration of a community?

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Michael Hobbes isn’t buying any of it. “Can’t entrepreneurship be incremental? Can’t it be generative without being disruptive?” I call bologna.

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Before Hobbes or Victor Margolin had any time to meet with Jocelyn—The writer of this story also ran out of time—the dinner bell rang and socially conscious Danone yogurt was on the menu.

Going to the Theater

 

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Believe it or not, I actually found a spare moment today to go to the cinema with a couple friends. Austin Film Society was showing Akira, a 1988 masterpiece anime film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. I am very apt to zone out and go cross-eyed at the animated detail of anime films. They are always visually dazzling and give me a chance to soak in moving art, and to relax. Today that was not the case.

Every frame posed a rapid fire snapshot of the drawing style and point perspective. How does the cityscape look on the horizon? Which characters are usually only shown from the waist up? There were a lot of stimuli for my sketching analytical mind to kick in. It wasn’t relaxing, but it was an exciting and peculiar experience.

This happens with almost everything now. Every service I use has an evident design behind it. I just notice more—The MacBook Pro keyboard is fascinating by the way, It has such a much louder ‘clack’ than previous models.

I find myself getting nosy, asking “why” when someone says “I like that,” or “that’s cool.” I ask myself why things around me matter, which has led me to filter the world more acutely.

I don’t think it would be a sustainable future to have my mind so alert all of the time. But, just like I’m looking for a good work/life balance I’m also looking for my mind/no-mind balance. Wish me luck.

 

Design Research: It’s Research But It’s Not Science

Design Research Presentation

Everyone and their mothers have been moving to Austin. Sometimes it’s for a job, sometimes it’s because they hear it’s a cool and weird oasis city. After living here for a while their friends from whatever city they came from ask them, “what’s so special about Austin? How does it move you, and why should I move there?” The answer totally depends on the person. It’s subjective.

Everyone in the innovation industry is moving towards design thinking and with that comes design research as a technique and methodology for collecting qualitative data. When a traditional boardroom client encounters a design researcher for the first time they will ask, “what’s so special about design research? How does it move you, and how does it move my business?”

The answer is hopefully personalized to each designer’s own subjective, creative process and how they interpret design research. No matter what, clients are taking a leap into newness (which is what defines innovation).

It’s tempting to formulate structures and frameworks to give the peculiar practice a backbone of intellect and explicit wisdom. But I would suggest that there is danger in overdeveloping the methods. It could lead to the limiting stiffness that the hard sciences struggle with. For design thinking to be relevant in innovation, it needs to have the flexibility and agility to morph and improve itself outside of strict frameworks. This is where design research differs from scientific research.

 

If There’s One Thing I Want You To Take Away From This, It’s This…

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this blog post, it’s that there’s one very simple way to frame a powerful presentation. You just tell the audience at face value what they should care to remember, and then at the end of the presentation you remind them of what they just learned and why it’s valuable to them.

When I listen to some of the most articulate TED Talks my immediate wow reaction is to how captivating the presenter’s storytelling is. Yet at no point do I lose view of the simplicity of the story arc or the intended narrative. No matter how deep the speaker delves, I don’t get lost in the details and information.

My biggest fear as a presenter has always been failing to be evocative and failing to rally the audience to care about something that I care to speak about. I often struggle because I sacrifice essential information that I think might bore the audience. As an audience member I fear the loss of 15 good minutes I spent listening to a poor presentation, and the shame that someone—someone who clearly is passionate about something enough to share it with a public—has failed to convince me that I should share a mutual interest with them.

I don’t have a particularly good memory for numbers. Sometimes I can listen to an utterance of statistics and it will have a lasting impact of about 5 minutes. But you will never catch me quoting statistics at a dinner table. My take away is always a concept. The best presenters tell you before anything else exactly what the rest of their presentation will be about: The one concept, the one they want you to remember at the dinner table in 5 months—notably longer than 5 minutes. Then the speaker tells you a bunch of information. And then they frame it in the conclusion. They remind you of the original focus statement, and in doing so, help you internalize and contextualize everything you just learned from them.

If there’s one thing I want you to remember from this blog post, it’s that we, as presenters, have to remind ourselves that our audience members aren’t the ones that are intimate with the material we are presenting. We are. And if we want other people to latch onto the stories we are telling we have to brief them and debrief them, all in the short span of a presentation 10-15 minute presentation.

 

Week 2: Redefining Someone Else’s Problem

My team and I are only in the second week of an eight-week project with We Are Blood; in the thick of participant interviews and site visits. Our research plan has changed dozens of times. At one point we were defining up to six different types of participants, each with distinct interview questions and visual exercises. It was a bloody mess. What could we be doing to mitigate the division of our focus statement into these isolating variations? How can we synchronize the many players on both ends of the blood bank’s service?

Looking at our own behaviors as designers crafting a research plan, perhaps we took the stakeholders’ suggestions too literally.

When the client you work for has a strong sense of direction and an idea of what they want to discover about their own organization it is easy to regurgitate their words as a research plan. It smooths the stress of having to prove to the stakeholder and yourself that the direction you are taking the project is a worthwhile one.

But when we skipped that step, we skipped the opportunity to redefine the pain point of our client. They are familiar with their issues securing repeat blood donors out of a young generation of Central Texans. Chances are that they’ve thought a lot about how to resolve that issue. That problem persists. But have they thought about how to ask the question differently? Have they thought about asking foundational questions about why people do humanitarian deeds? Instead of asking, how do we get young Texans at We Are Blood, we could ask, why do young Texans do what they do? What moves them to do something out of the ordinary?

I think the ultimate achievement for a non-profit would be for the community to support your cause with no coaxing or coercing, just plain and simple mutual interest in doing good. Reaching that level of sustainability must be a goal for all non-profits of all different shapes and sizes.

All of a sudden we’ve put the user at the center of the universe, we’ve given them the agency in future service design, and we are designing “with” not “for.” At the same time we’ve created a scenario to ask interview questions differently. The CEO of the company could be asked the same questions as the community engagement team, the supervisors, the operations managers, and the phlebotomists.

I feel we have much better footing and confidence to get better data from our interviews while asking a variety of people the same questions. We are no longer manicuring questions to fish for answers we are hoping for.

 

Ethics Diagram: Rating Authors of Theory

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Rating authors and thought leaders on a scale from least important to most important is a tough request. But reframing and asking which of their ethics is most important to me makes the exercise a little more approachable. I created a diagram that has two parts. On the bottom are player cards that label the authors based on their position in my rating, communicating their perspective on the role of the designer, why I value that perspective, and a quote from the reading that exemplifies my choice.

 

When I went to position the authors along a graph I wasn’t sure why I was leaning towards one or the other. It is very difficult to disregard my emotional responses to their writing styles, expository or persuasive. I did my best to avoid dwelling too much on the history of when these authors were actively publishing—for example Bernays wrote about ‘propaganda’ at a time when it didn’t have the same connotation that it does now. But then again some of the latter authors—Postman and Vitta—are writing about topics that didn’t exist in the discourse of early 20th century debate.

I decided to focus on my affinity for the ethics that emphasize the demand for design to be malleable, cyclical, user-empowering, inclusive, and humbling. Bernays—although deceptively inclusive—and Vitta do not give agency to users as integral and equal parts of the interactions that make a product or a service. When I read these authors users feel like a flock of sheep. Dewey and Postman vouch for a human-centered design that is interactive and non-discriminatory.

Design is a cycle, and Vitta does good to bring light to this despite his cynicism. When designers partake in the massification of consumer culture, the chain does not end with their invention in the hands of a user. If the designer is not considerate and responsible in their innovations, the uselessness of their products will come back to bite them in the behind. The product doesn’t end with the consumer. The consumers, along with their belongings, fuse a bridge back to the originator—the designer.

Ethically, it is the designers that must be held accountable to the power of design. When we were discussing the readings in class several people said the oft repeated quote, “with great power comes great responsibility.” I don’t disagree with that. But when the imagery in my mind went to Superman I felt hesitant. So I had to make an additive statement that clears up my frustration with that saying:

Design should be powerful.

Designers should be humble.

I believe designers have some of the tools to be the most influential cultural and societal influencers. But we owe it to design and to the active agency and participation of users to achieve great success in healing and developing.

Spikes among Elks: Zev’s First Week at AC4D

“We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future. This is the only preparation which in the long run amounts to anything.”

–  John Dewey, The Need for a Theory of Experience

 

All sixteen of us students in the incoming class of 2019 had heaps of concerns coming into orientation and our first week of coursework. Two weeks in, I wouldn’t say there are any less concerns, just different flavors of concern. We’ve all stepped into a mental fit of uncertainty that we must grow accustomed to. We can all see ourselves pulling toffee between our own personal goals and the collective trust and equilibrium we are struggling to embrace.

Whether we realize it or not, it is the intentionally suffocating educational experiences we’ve been subjected to this last fortnight that John Dewey is talking about. How? We are getting so drenched in responsibility at every moment that we have not one second to spend worrying about weighing the future value of what we are doing at the present. These ever-present demands force us into a state of ever-presence. Accept it or leave it.   

The somewhat scarring experience of our first day when we were told that in 48 hours we needed to enlist a local humanitarian company to pay us $1,000 by conducting qualitative research for their organization left most of us a bit shaken. This was followed by the absolute destruction of our already-withering egos during the subsequent presentations of our research plans in front of Jon and Matt (our instructors for design research and synthesis).

On more than one occasion when approaching a business owner I was told that, “you don’t just walk into an office on a Tuesday in August unsolicited. That’s not how it works.” Believe me, I know. And so do the people who gave us the assignments. Regardless, you can guarantee that I began to seep of self-doubt rather than the confidence and optimism I went in with. Inadequacy spread through me like a virus. Why would our instructors do this to us?

“Wholly independent of desire or intent every experience lives on in further experiences. Hence the central problem of an education based upon experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences… progressive education is a matter of planless improvisation… [and] progressive schools cannot rely upon established traditions and institutional habits, they must either proceed more or less haphazardly or be directed by ideas which, when they are made articulate and coherent, form a philosophy of education.”

– John Dewey

Traditional education breeds a race of passive students. Students consume their training and nothing more. No doubt, Jon and Matt assigned this project to us because they demand that we exercise our own agency to perform improvisationally and autonomously in the moment. They are demonstrating that at the moment we are but spikes, and a spike can’t prepare itself to be an elk any faster just because it wishes to be wise and have a full set of antlers. What we can’t yet see is how this takes shape in the subsequent experiences that Dewey writes about. It’s only when we put our faith into our progressive instruction and unlock our cognisance of the deliberate process that we can begin to allow ourselves to learn.  

“The illustration drawn from the need for regulation of the objective conditions of a baby’s development indicates, first, that the parent has responsibility for arranging the conditions under which an infant’s experience of food, sleep, etc., occurs, and, secondly, that the responsibility is fulfilled by utilizing the funded experience of the past, as this is represented, say, by the advice of competent physicians and others who have made a special study of normal physical growth. Does it limit the freedom of the mother when she uses the body of knowledge thus provided to regulate the objective conditions of nourishment and sleep? Or does the enlargement of her intelligence in fulfilling her parental function widen her freedom? Doubtless if a fetish were made of the advice and directions so that they came to be inflexible dictates to be followed under every possible condition, then restriction of freedom of both parent and child would occur. But this restriction would also be a limitation of the intelligence that is exercised in personal judgment. In what respect does regulation of objective conditions limit the freedom of the baby?”

-John Dewey

 

To paraphrase Dewey, if a mother puts her full trust in her home economics textbook teaching of motherhood 101, then her interactions with her child won’t allow her to become a better and more free mother to that child. And when she has her next child, she won’t recognize that the second child has unique needs to the first. I’m not calling Jon and Matt mothers of myself and 15 other sibling students. But when you start using the verbiage of a good mother— one that rears and one that fosters—you start to see parallels with their techniques and the most basic interaction fundamental to human growth: A mother and her child. Being a child all over again is scary.

Reflecting on the horror of our first assignment to harass local businesses with unsolicited design value pitches I remember as a child the turmoil of rapid swings between the frustration of inadequacy and extreme self-confidence. And looking back, I reckon the bulk of my personal growth came from improvisational experiences not confined to the classroom.

Returning to our original list of concerns as a class, we wanted to know things like when we would need to learn Adobe Illustrator or if Illustrator is a better software than Sketch. We wanted to know if we would be expected to be expert drawers in the near future. The obvious and deeply unsatisfying answer—it depends. It depends on how you arm yourself and discover your own personal creative process, interactively, improvisationally, progressively, and un-certainly.

 

The root internal worry in my head entering AC4D was, how will AC4D shape me?

My new worry—how am I allowing myself to be shaped by AC4D?